My Big Fat Greek Government?

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‘Big government’ has not been the downfall of Greece. What happened in the country is more part of the continuing legacy of the years of occupation, civil war and dictatorship

The Greek crisis has given neo-liberals a great opportunity to criticise ‘big government’ Hellenic style – they see the problem as Big Fat Greek Government. But as usual the truth about Greece’s problems is rather more complex – what Greece needs is not less government, but better government.

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About Colin Talbot

Colin Talbot is Professor of Government in the School of Social Sciences (Politics), University of Manchester, and a former adviser to the Treasury select committee. He writes and comments widely on public management reform. Colin has worked with numerous national and international public sector organisations, as an adviser, consultant and researcher. He blogs at Manchester Policy Blogs.

4 comments on My Big Fat Greek Government?

  1. Jamie Lang says:

    At last, some serious, balanced, meaningful analysis of the Greek economic position. Excellent.

  2. Des McConaghy says:

    Rings all too true Colin! I have no personal experience of Greek public administration but back in 1980 I reported on the situation in Italy and in particular the financial relationships between central, regional and local government – and at a time when our most distinguished UK papers were referring to the Italian “submerged economy” as both “celebrated” and indeed “healthy”. Our Treasury ministers then hinted that such an “unofficial” economy could take the heat out of our own then growing unemployment. So I then suggested such enthusiasts should study the Italian model more closely. Besides institutionalising tax evasion. the tougher criminal side then included Mafia-controlled child labour, protection rackets and pay-offs to the police. Then, too, for example, Prato – the instant growth city adjoining Florence – was a beehive of small companies where complicated networks of sub-contacting evaded all labour laws and complex indeterminate banking systems routinely bypassed official scrutiny. Such conditions continue to this day. Much earlier in 1971 when I met the then EEC’s first director of regional policy we had a good laugh at the futility of EEC-sponsored Italian regional research in such circumstances. But more seriously one had to conclude that we have never had any effective public audit in Greece, Italy or indeed in the EU itself! Nor indeed can we ourselves be completely complacent while our public audit remains under some threat in the UK and while it remains formally excluded from our own diabolically incoherent parliamentary supply procedures!

  3. Angela says:

    A fair analysis.

    A few corrections/observations though:

    I’m not sure where you get the 8.3% education spending figure from. Greeks (especially students and those working in education) have been campaigning to get education spending at 5% for decades; and despite such a target having often been amongst the election pledges of successive governments, we are still waiting.

    Average retirement age is not 58, it is 61 (some sources have it at 61.5), lower than the OECD average but higher than quite a few EU countries. As for pensions being too generous, I think that might be misleading too. Even if the 95.7% figure is correct (from everything I know about Greek pensions, I can’t see how it can be), what these reports forget to tell you is that welfare spending in Greece is heavily skewed towards pensions which make up for the complete lack of other types of benefits. For instance, a Greek pensioner on 700 Euros a month (a figure not at all uncommon), would not be entitled to any further help from the state towards housing, long-term care, etc. If I’m not mistaken, British pensioners are entitled to pension credits, housing benefit and benefits towards their long-term care (Edinburgh council, for instance, gives £550 per week towards the care of elderly citizens who need it).

    Other benefits (apart from housing and long-term care) that are non-existent or woefully low in Greece are benefits for the unemployed, single parents, the disabled, the underpaid….and I’m sure there are more.

    In short, any attempts to portray the Greek crisis as one resulting from an overall generous welfare state are either ignorant or driven by a very particular type of ideological agenda.

  4. Angela says:

    An addition to the above:

    I agree with your observation on ‘state-building’ in Europe. However, this state-building cannot be seen as being imposed, especially if this imposition is coming from outside the country.

    Due to our history, we Greeks are not only suspicious of our own state but also of any sort of foreign interference in, what should be, internal affairs. We need to reassess the relationship we have with our state (tax evasion and corruption are both linked to the disassociation the citizen experiences from the state), and this relationship extends to the relationship we have with what we perceive to be foreign ‘patrons’.

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